Hidden Gems at the Library

As I celebrate one year of working for the library, I thought I would highlight one of the perks of the job: discovering hidden gems in the library collection. I already blogged about Through the Barricades, which I came across while browsing the library’s shelves—something I never had time to do as a patron. Others I have discovered while looking at circulation reports and pulling books that haven’t checked out in a long while. Sometimes when you are doing this kind of work, you feel like you understand why a book hasn’t checked out. Maybe it doesn’t look appealing or the description makes it sound a little strange. But there are other books with low circulation numbers that I find myself reading—and enjoying, and I just know that other people would love them too if they found them.

Catlantis by Anna Starobinets, for example, falls into this category. This short book is actually a rather silly story about how cats came to have nine lives. It involves time travel and other magical elements, but it never takes itself too seriously. If you are a kid who appreciates cat-oriented wordplay, this is the book for you.

Speaking of wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor, The Short Con by Pete Toms is another lonely book with few checkouts. It’s a shame, really, because this graphic novel will appeal to grown ups as well as kids. There are pop culture references, cat puns, and just plain weirdness. It’s small, but a lot of fun. I’m glad I found it, and I hope other people do too.

I’m glad it’s part of my job to discover these hidden gems and help them get into the hands of the right readers!

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I am a Rereader

When Dimple Met RishiThere are two types of people in the world: people who reread books and people who don’t.

I am a rereader. I probably shouldn’t reread as much as I do considering being widely read is an important part of my job, but sometimes I just want to immerse myself in a familiar story—usually a happy one. Sometimes I’m feeling down or stressed. Sometimes there’s no reason at all. It feels a bit like a guilty pleasure because the books I reread the most happen to be the fluffy ones. If I’m honest, there are times when I feel a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve read my favorite teen romances (Alex Approximately and When Dimple Met Rishi for a couple of specific examples) multiple times. With so little reading time and so many more books I want to read, why give extra time to these books? They aren’t exactly hard-hitting, important stories. At least not in the way that we usually think of “important.”

Plenty of people probably think they aren’t worth reading once, much less multiple times. There are people who only spend their reading time on the books that are Capital I Important. And that’s fine. I’m not here to judge anyone’s reading tastes no matter how much they diverge from mine. There was a time when I would have. There was absolutely a time in my life when I would have judged myself for enjoying fluff. For wanting fluff. Honestly, for needing it sometimes. These days I call it “self care,” and I own it. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with a comfort read–whatever that may be for you.

Lost Girl of Astor StreetIn addition to the teen romances I mentioned above, my next choice for a comfort read is historical fiction. I’ve blogged about my interest in historical fiction often enough that this probably doesn’t surprise anyone. But there is something I find incredibly comforting in getting completely out of your own time period. I have recently reread a couple of favorites: The Lost Girl of Astor Street (historical mystery/romance) and No Shame No Fear (historical/romance), and I can highly recommend both to readers whose tastes run similar to mine. ;)

In conclusion, there are probably way more than those two types of people in the world. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I just like to read my favorite fluffy books whenever I feel like it.

Hello, My Pronouns Are…

Lanyard with pronoun pinI’ve been wearing a pronoun pin on my lanyard at the library for months. Either no one has noticed it, or they just haven’t said anything. I’ll be honest, I expected at least one person to ask why I felt the need to identify “she/her” as my preferred pronouns when I present as female. But no one said anything.

Until this week.

A few days ago a library patron noticed and spoke up. And, to my great relief, it was positive! She expressed appreciation for the way that the pin normalized the idea that pronouns might not be as obvious as we think they are. We talked about our kids growing up in a world where “they” can be singular and about how we can help create an environment of acceptance in our kids’ schools.

The conversation reminded me of something I read in the book Who are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity. In a note to grown-ups at the beginning it says, “Some grown-ups worry that children are too young to talk about gender diversity. But it is all around us. Kids are already talking about it, and you get to decide how you want to be a part of that conversation.”

I’m still learning about what it means to be inclusive in this way, but I’m glad to be part of the conversation both at home and at the library.

My Reading Reports

I’m reading for you. That’s what I wrote in my VOYA article published earlier this year, and I really believe that as a librarian, I have a responsibility to read beyond my personal choices. That’s the nature of the job. But it’s not always easy. No matter how professionally I view my reading choices, there is an element of the personal in there as well. And personally… I sometimes get stuck in a reading rut.

In an effort to hold myself accountable for my reading, I started creating monthly reading reports. It was partly a desire to see what I could do with Adobe Spark, which I had just discovered, and partly a way to visually organize the group of books I chose for the month to see where I might have holes. These reports are more for my own benefit than anyone else’s, but I have been sharing them on the chance that someone might be interested.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: Without some kind of accountability, I would probably read 95% teen fiction with female protagonists written by female authors. Contemporary realism with a bias toward romance. Mostly written by white authors. Not too surprising, I suppose.

But, honestly, some of my favorite books this year has been outside of that particular niche. I read Adi Alsaid’s North of Happy because I realized I had read very little written by men. It was excellent. I read The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey because I was really lacking in children’s fantasy choices. It was easily one of the best books I read this year. The Diabolic and The Passenger were my attempts to read science fiction, and both were un-put-down-able, if I may use such a word.

While I’m not going to keep up these reading reports anymore, I will say that the last six months of making and sharing them has been helpful and educational. It has kept me on my toes professionally, and that’s always a good thing.

Here are the links to each month’s report along with the highlights:

January – Okay, okay… I know this month was too heavy on teen fiction. Note to diversify audience for next month. My favorite books for the month were The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

February – I was still stuck in my romantic teen fiction rut this month, but I managed to read more children’s books and a couple of mysteries. Favorites from the month: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill (historical teen mystery) and Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett (contemporary teen romance).

March – So many different genres this month! Not terribly racially/culturally diverse this month though. My two favorites for the month were Posted by John David Anderson (children’s contemporary realism) and Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (teen contemporary realism).

April – Focus is finally off teen fiction! I even included picture books and early chapter books. The focus on Latina authors was unintentional, but all four were good books. Favorite: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

May – I actually read some graphic novels for kids for a change. Favorite: Real Friends by Shannon Hale.

June – It was a busy month, and I was feeling a bit fickle as far as books were concerned. Favorite: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is that just because I have selected books more purposefully of late doesn’t necessarily make them into “assigned reading” that I dread reading or hate on principle. Does that mean I have finally grown up? Probably not, considering I’m reading 80% children’s/teen books. Still, I’m counting it as a win.  Honestly, forcing myself out of my usual has been full of fun discoveries and challenges. Six months into this, I am probably more enthusiastic than when I started.

Check out my stickers

During my second week at my new library job, I found myself sitting at the reference desk applying stickers to my prosthetic arm. When I was finished, I had a trail of assorted insects (and a few spiders) zigzagging around my arm. It didn’t take long for someone to comment on my bugs. That, of course, was the point.

It had been so long since I’d worked with the general public that I had almost forgotten why I used to keep my arm decorated with stickers. It wasn’t the love of stickers or the desire to show off my favorite bands or opinions. It was an opening. It was for all those people who would never ask me directly about my prosthetic arm, but would say something about my stickers. It was my way of saying that I’m not taking this too seriously. I’m not pretending that you don’t notice my difference. I’m saying it’s okay to notice.

I started the sticker thing when I was working as a server. I was a college student looking to make a decent amount of money with a flexible schedule. What better job than waiting tables, right? I was fortunate enough to find someone willing to give me a chance despite the obvious question: can a person with one arm do this job?? It turned out that yes, I could do the job. I did it for the next several years. It didn’t take long for me to learn the particulars of the job. It probably took me even less time to learn that unaddressed curiosity is THE WORST.

Maybe you don’t know this, but I can tell when you’re curious about me. I can feel it. You might think you are keeping your questions quiet, but you wear them in your body language. Most people do, anyway. And when I have to interact with you repeatedly, like when I am serving you a meal at a restaurant, it’s uncomfortable for both of us to ignore the questions you are trying so hard to hold in.

You know what’s bad for tips: awkwardness. It just is. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a bigger tip because the customer feels guilty about the awkwardness. But most of the time, awkward = bad tip. That wasn’t good for my pocketbook, and it made my job way less fun. So I stuck a few stickers to my arm.

It’s funny what a few stickers can do. They’re an icebreaker. They’re a signal. They cut the awkwardness down to almost nothing. They give people an out if they are caught staring.

When I started working in a public library, the stickers became even more important. I wanted to be approachable to my library patrons (and successful in my career) even more than I had wanted good tips in my serving job, and I really didn’t want the many, many kids I saw at the library to feel uncomfortable around me or afraid of me. No one wants to be an object of fear.  Librarians especially so. I wanted kids to know that they could ask me anything, and I wouldn’t judge them for it. I wouldn’t be in this field if I didn’t value curiosity, and I wouldn’t have chosen to work with young people, if I wasn’t comfortable answering these kinds of questions.  I’ve found it helps to dive into the questions, get them answered, and move on from there. Watching people hold questions in makes my job way less fun.

I was reminded of that as I started my new job—back in public service at a library after several years in the not-public side of the library world. This week I changed the bugs to something more summery just as I had told a young library visitor I would. “Come back in a couple of weeks,” I’d said. “I already have my summer stickers picked out. Wait’ll you see ‘em!”

Maybe it’s silly. Maybe it wouldn’t be what you would do if you were me. Maybe a lot of things. For now: wait’ll you see my new stickers. ;)

“This might seem rude, but…”

uglyI have talked a lot on this blog about acknowledging differences and asking questions. I was thinking about that as I read Ugly by Robert Hoge, a memoir for kids about Hoge’s experience growing up with a facial deformity. This passage, in particular, stood out to me:

“Some of the best talks I have ever had started with someone asking, ‘This might seem rude, but can I ask about your face/nose/scars/bumps?’ Wherever those conversations ended up, they started as honest exchanges. Acknowledging someone’s differences can be about saying you’re not scared to talk to someone about the things that make them who they are.”

A lot of kids have been afraid of me in my life. When I was a kid, it was confusing to have my peers be afraid of my prosthesis or of my little arm. I wasn’t scary, was I? As an adult, I understand why it might be surprising, uncomfortable, or even frightening for a kid to see someone like me. And I go out of my way to be approachable, to be unscary. I’ll never look just like everyone else, and I’m okay with that.

I promise: I’d much rather be asked a rude question than have someone be afraid of me.

Robert Hoge’s memoir shares his journey to being okay with how he looked. It can be hard to read about how his mother initially rejected him, about the taunts he received from other kids, and about being perceived as ugly, but I hope readers, young and old, come away knowing that they don’t have to be afraid of someone who looks different. They can ask honest questions. That it is possible to be comfortable with what you look like even when you stand out.

You can listen to Hoge talk more about how important it is to be comfortable with how you look in his TEDx Talk:

Reading Sad Stories

What is it about tearjerkers that always pull me in? Books like The Secret Hum of a Daisy, The Thing About Jellyfish, and Counting by 7s are among my favorite recent children’s novels. Each book explores loss and grief in a way that feels very profound to me, though I have not experienced such loss myself. Not like the kids in those stories anyway.

No one I have been close to has died–a fact for which I am quite grateful. But my childhood was marked by regular losses, of a sort, as my family moved again and again for the first twelve years of my life. It wasn’t death, but it was a real grief that I felt as I left behind friends and familiarity for an unknown place with people who didn’t belong to me.  I feel like I spent my childhood saying goodbye and searching for a sense of home. Not so different from the kids in those books.

freeverseFree Verse by Sarah Dooley struck a particular chord with me. In the story Sasha lives in a mining town. Everyone in the town is affected when there is an accident in the mine. They all know how dangerous it is, and yet the miners go to work every day regardless. That’s the job.

That was my dad’s job for most of his life. He called himself a miner, but he didn’t actually extract anything from the earth. “Tunneller” would perhaps be more accurate as he and his crew dug mostly sewer tunnels several hundred feet underground. No less dangerous than any other sort of mining, I assure you. But that was the job.

Sasha has lost everyone she loves. Her father to the mines. Her mother to the wider world. Her brother, most recently, to a fire. As she finds a new family and a new sense of home, it isn’t easy for her to make sense of the choice to work in the mine when you have a family. Her cousin Hubert tries to explain, and I felt like my dad would be nodding in agreement if he heard Hubert’s speech about how proud he is of his work.  It’s work that matters. It’s work that not just anyone can or will do. “The equipment, the training–it’s not some dumb hillbilly job,” he tells Sasha.

Still Sasha asks, “But if something bad happens to the guy in your job, where would his family be?”

Hubert doesn’t have an easy answer to that. Neither did my dad, I suppose, though I admit we didn’t talk much about it.

Perhaps that’s what draws me to these stories. I may be a grown up who has never experienced the loss of a loved one like the kids in these books, but there is a part of me that will always be trying to sort through difficult questions and find a sense of home for myself where the answers–never easy–at least feel like they fit.

Each of these stories offer a bit of hope that we can find what we will find our fit if we keep trying. If we keep letting new people into our lives, if we listen to their stories, and try to understand, we’ll create a sense of home.  These are the stories, Free Verse especially, I wanted to find as a kid to get me through the goodbyes and the questions.